by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – November 18, 2010
In the beginning of the Torah section of VaYishlach, we read that Jacob sent malakhim “to Esav his brother to the land of Seir, the field of Edom” (Bereshit 32:4). The word malakhim in this verse could be interpreted as messengers. However, Rashi ad locum interprets the word to mean angels. In light of his special character and righteousness, Jacob, like his grandfather Abraham, was frequented by angels. Consequently, instead of simply sending out some human messengers, he sent angels to do his mission.
In his Derash Moshe, the famous latter-day Halachik decisor and Torah giant R. Moshe Feinstein asks why Jacob would have used angels for this mission when he could have used human beings. Our Sages tell us that people are to avoid the miraculous (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 53b). Moreover, we find that when G-d performs a miracle for a person, “his merits are diminished” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 20b). Why then would Jacob enlist the miraculous service of angels, rather than the natural use of human beings to deliver his message to his brother?
In answer to his question, R. Feinstein notes that certain people reach the height of completeness and such people are always aware of the “miracle” of nature. Many things happen regularly and, therefore, taking them for granted, we do not see them as miraculous. A spiritually sensitive person, however, is aware that there is such a thing as the miracle of nature. Our forefather Jacob, R. Feinstein points out, was such a spiritually sensitive person. He realized that everything in nature was miraculous. For Jacob, there was no difference between sending two human beings to meet Esav or sending two angels to meet his brother. To him, the missions would be equally miraculous. Similarly we find regarding the Tanna R. Chanina ben Dosa, of whom the Talmud relates that he lit vinegar because he did not have any oil to produce light (Babylonia Talmud, Ta’anit 25a). R. Chanina ben Dosa stated that the same G-d who decrees that oil should produce light can make vinegar produce light as well. For R. Chanina ben Dosa, everything was miraculous – oil burning no less than vinegar burning.
Avoiding the miraculous and diminishing a person’s merits refers to people who are amazed at miracles but are not amazed at nature. A person such as Jacob, who viewed all of life as a miracle, would not have his merits diminished by invoking the miraculous, since for him it was no different than the ongoing miracles of nature.
In relation to this, R. Feinstein explains another matter discussed in the Talmud. We find (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 94) that G-d considered appointing King Chizkiyahu to be the Messiah while the King of Ashur Sancheriv would be the embodiment of Gog and Magog. However, the Attribute of Justice protested that it would not be fair that David who recited so many psalms and praises to G-d was passed over and not made the Messiah whereas Chizkiyahu who witnessed so many miracles and did not sing a song of praise and thanksgiving would be made Messiah. G-d accepted the complaint. At that moment, the earth declared, “I will recite your praises and in this merit, You may make this righteous one [King Chizkiyahu] the Messiah.”
The question arises as to why Chizkiyahu in fact did not sing praises to G-d. R. Feinstein answers that Chizkiyahu did not sing songs of praise because he was not impressed by miracles. For Chizkiyahu, everything was miraculous. Therefore, classic miracles did not move him to sing praise. That is what is meant by the earth’s declaration. The earth, representing nature, in recognition of his seeing all of nature as miraculous, defends Chizkiyahu.
Too often we become complacent about the world around us and take everything, other than the “amazing”, for granted. But, if we really want to grow and rise to higher plateaus, we must recognize one of the greatest miracles, the miracle of nature itself.